We picked a bottle out of the bay a couple of weeks ago thinking we were just being good citizens, brought it home, and only just discovered it had a post rolled up in it from our water correspondent, Froude Reynolds:
Three former governors supporting Gov. Schwarzenegger’s call for a new water strategy for California in an LA Times Op-Ed. They describe the crisis first: more people live here as the climate gets drier; important infrastructure in the Delta is likely to collapse catastrophically. Yep. That’s a crisis. But the proposed solutions are not much of a strategy and represent no new thinking. The four prongs of this “new water strategy” are 1. build new plumbing around the Delta, 2. everyone conserves water by twenty percent, 3. get agencies in regions together to… do something regional, and 4. put some money behind new infrastructure. Those are decent short-term responses to more people, less water and breaking infrastructure, but they are not a strategy. They are reactive techniques applied well after the problems present themselves.
A strategy would be for us to decide what we want water to do for us. Water could do all sorts of things. Water can directly sustain our bodies. Water can grow plants to feed us and the nation or plants to look green outside our houses. Water can turn turbines. Water can provide salmon and trout places to live. Water can keep seawater out of our aquifers or keep the ground from subsiding. Water can dilute plumes of toxic chemicals. Water can carry s–t away from our houses. Water can brush dirt off your driveway. Water can wash silicon wafers. Water can look attractive in fountains. Water can be turned back to snow to ski on. Water in California can do whatever we decide to pay for. But that’s the thing. A real water strategy would mean that we make decisions, not that we cobble together techniques that will let us perpetuate for a few more years the very peculiar set of things that water happens to do for us now.
Leadership, Messrs. Three Former Governors and One Current Governor, would be considerably more than listing current problems and naming disjointed techniques to solve them Whack-A-Mole-style. Leadership would be setting up a process to choose what we want water to do (one that doesn’t have “more of the same” as the default answer) and then devising a route to get there. It may be that we want water to flow to its highest economic use, which would mean eliminating the institutional barriers to a water market. It may be that we want the cleanest water available for humans to drink and that we want water to give us food security, which would mean designating waters for those uses. Maybe we want water to host wildlife, which would not be a use well-served by a water market but instead require regulation. Maybe we want a mixture. Leadership would create a vision and a strategy would get you there. There was neither in that L.A. Times editorial, no matter what they title the op-ed or call their group.